commentary

(Joangang Ilbo)

Obama's Foreign Policy Team and U.S.-Korean Relations

by Chaibong Hahm

February 16, 2009

The following is an English summary translation of a commentary originally published in Korean.

The concrete contours of President Obama's foreign policy team have finally begun to emerge. What is intriguing is how many assignments are being given to those who have worked on the Korean peninsula.

Christopher Hill, current Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, who displayed considerable skill during his dealings with the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Six Party Talks Process, has been tapped as the Ambassador to Iraq. Alexander "Sandy" Vershbow, former ambassador to the Republic of Korea, reportedly will be nominated for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, responsible for some of the most sensitive areas in the world, including Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.

These and other foreign service veterans who are seasoned Korea experts have been tapped to handle some of the most pressing and sensitive areas and issues for U.S. foreign policy and national security. It should prove in ROK's interest that so many well-placed diplomats have such deep understandings and appreciation of Korea's position on a variety of important issues.

One of the most politically sensitive and potentially explosive of these is the timing and degree of ROK's commitment to support U.S. operations in Afghanistan and/or Iraq. Having these Korea hands in charge of such issues provides the Korean government with a channel to convey their views and opinions with a degree of sensitivity rarely available before.

In fact, now is the best opportunity for the ROK to cooperate with the United States in raising the alliance to the level of a true "global partnership." To this end, ROK needs to not only forge stronger ties with the United States, but to understand the country's global strategies and policies, fully cooperating when necessary.

The new U.S. foreign policy team is clearly one with which the ROK can work closely. South Korea's own strategic thinking and diplomacy should take full advantage of the opportunity.


Chaibong Hahm is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that seeks to improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis.

The full commentary is available in Korean at http://news.joins.com/article/3495707.html?ctg=20.

This commentary originally appeared in Joangang Ilbo on February 16, 2009. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.